Thursday, 28 May 2015

No, Minister

Picture courtesy of C Le Masurier Limited.

I reprint below a letter in last nights JEP from David Cabeldu’s Save Our Shoreline regarding the International Finance Centre (pictured in a "mock up" above). The key hold-up to the project going ahead, and the one major safeguard, was the necessity to have sufficient pre-lets for the development could commence.

It is clear that the States of Jersey Development Company are looking for ways to circumvent that undertaking, and they are being aided and abetted by the Treasury Minister, who has apparently dismissed this pledge as “historic” and dating back to the time when Harcourt had lost the project, an feeble excuse worthy of James Hacker, MP.

Alan Maclean seems to have forgotten that Harcourt had to put up £95m bond to ensure that if they were unable to complete the development, the States would not be left footing the bill. Senator Ozouf extended their deadline for raising the bond twice, but they were still unable to raise it.

At the time this was done, in 2009, the Jersey Evening Post editorial included the following paragraph:

“It is evident that the global economic downturn is biting here. Its ultimate effect on our financial services industry and that industry’s demand for the sort of new accommodation that the Waterfront’s Esplanade Quarter is supposed to supply must be matters for serious concern. It is therefore legitimate to ask whether the present circumstances can be regarded as favourable for the launch of a £350 million scheme – the largest ever proposed in this Island.”

The leader article went on to say:

“The stakes are so high that no go-ahead can be given until we know for certain that all promises can be kept, who is truly capable of delivering the goods and, crucially, that there will be adequate future demand for Jersey’s financial services to justify continuing with such a huge undertaking in such dramatically changed circumstances.”

In the end, the States of Jersey Development Company, or to be more exact, its previous incarnation as the Waterfront Enterprise Board, was tasked with proceeding. The safeguard – in place of a bond by Harcourt – was a stringent need for 200,000 sq feet of office space to be pre-let first.

The stakes are still high, and reneging on pledges made will make the Island’s taxpayers hostage on the project succeeding. There is fierce determination to move ahead at any cost, and it is time for States members to stand up and be counted before the Council of Ministers rides roughshod over any Scrutiny report or indeed before Scrutiny finishes its task.

IFC pledge by Former Treasury Minister
Letter by David Cabeldu

Last night at the St Breladeʼs public meeting about the International Finance Centre, the Treasury Minister Senator Maclean was asked about a pledge given to the States by his predecessor Senator Philip Ozouf, our current London based Assistant Chief Minister.The Treasury Minster was asked if he would honour a promise given to the States by Senator Ozouf that 200,000 sq feet of office space would have to be pre-let before development would be allowed to commence on the deeply unpopular and divisive International Finance Centre.Senator Maclean said that this figure was ʻhistoricʼ and dated back to Harcourt days.

Consulting Hansard, we read that Senator Ozouf first pledged that this amount of space would be the minimum requirement. In a statement to Members on 1 July 2009 he said:“It may be helpful for me to inform Members that under the terms of the draft development agreement, the development of the Esplanade Quarter would not commence until agreements have been entered into for the letting of at least 200,000 square feet of office accommodation. I undertake to update Members as and when the situation changes.”

And only last year on 4 February 2014, in answer to a question on the subject by Deputy John Le Fondré, who was requesting a confirmation on the 200,000 sq feet minimum requirements, Senator Ozouf replied, “No, the position has not changed.” A promise made to the States so recently can hardly be considered to be ʻhistoricʼ.

To be clear: 200,000 sq feet is the floor space of approximately 3 buildings. Yet we were told last evening by Senator Maclean that the current plan is to go ahead with an (undisclosed proportion) of pre-let floor space of one building only, which will expose the public to risk, as borrowing is now required, Harcourt having left the scene. The plan has changed again, this time to piecemeal development, and only proposing to deliver offices, not a mixed use scheme as approved in the masterplan.

Call me old fashioned, but I have always believed that a pledge given to the House by a Minister (or any other States Member) should be honoured. While we are used to Senator Ozoufʼs undoubted talent to leave the questioner wondering (until too late) what his reply actually meant, his answers were, for once, unequivocal. The current Treasury Minister should make it clear whether he will be honouring his predecessorʼs pledge or whether he has moved the goalposts? If the latter is the case then surely the Assembly need to agree on this drastic revision?

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